7th power meter catches fire as weather creates 'perfect storm' for ground movement in Regina

A seventh SaskPower power meter caught fire in Regina's Uplands neighbourhood on Friday morning.

Homeowner had heard about meter fires in the news, so that was her first thought when she heard bang

Friday's fire is the seventh in Regina since shifting ground starting causing malfunctions. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

A seventh SaskPower power meter caught fire in Regina on Friday morning.

Fire crews were called to Carmichael Road in the Uplands neighbourhood just after 7 a.m. CST. 

Homeowner Debbie Matties was getting ready for work when she heard bangs. Matties had heard about the meter fires in the news so when she heard the noise, she said she instantly knew what was happening. 

"When we heard a loud bang, the power surged several times and we could see sparking out in the back," she said. 

When the homeowners got outside, they saw the meter on fire and sparking. They called 911. 

SaskPower has inspected about 3,200 homes in Regina as of Aug. 4, 1,200 of which were flagged for repairs. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

"The stucco is scorched," she said.

"'I don't know what else might be damaged. It smells quite smoky inside."

Matties said the meter was "sparking and smoking" for about 30 minutes before it stopped. 

The Crown corporation has been inspecting homes since extreme heat and dry conditions caused a ground shift in Regina, causing the clay soil to pull the wiring of meters further into the ground.

Regina saw its driest July in 130 years with only 1.8 millimetres of rain throughout the month. 

A 'perfect storm' for soil movement

Regina engineer Wayne Clifton said soil in the city area is a heavy clay that swells when it is wet and shrinks when it dries, causing vertical and horizontal ground movement and cracks.

He said conditions in Regina this summer have created "a perfect storm" for soil movement.

"In the last several years we have been in a wet cycle and the ground has been saturated, and of course in that condition the soil swells to its maximum potential," said Clifton.

"And now, in this extended drying spell, really since November of last year, the soil is drying and shrinking, resulting in the ground cracking and you can see it throughout the city."

What to look out for

SaskPower has focused on inspecting homes in Glencairn, Uplands and Normanview neighbourhoods due to their age.

SaskPower said it has inspected about 3,200 homes in the three neighbourhoods and about 1,200 have been flagged for repair.

On Sunday or Monday, three more companies will be joining SaskPower to help with inspections. 

Furthermore, new boxes that are installed will have more than a foot of extra wiring. 

Residents are encouraged to check their power meter boxes and see whether the unit has tilted, which might indicate a cable has shifted.

Signs to look for are a tilted meter box, the meter being pulled off of the house, frayed wires pushing out of the bottom of the box, or a new, significant gap between the house and the ground in the power box area.

If this is the case, residents are asked to contact SaskPower at 1-888-757-6937.

SaskPower said it will ​send someone within 72 hours, but may send someone immediately if the damage is significant.

Basement, foundation damage also possible

Clifton added that soil movement is also causing cracks around foundation walls, making it important to direct all ground and roof drainage away from the foundation and basement. 

For those who want to fill the cracks, he suggested using a type of topsoil instead of the local clay.

With files from Kendall Latimer